Ignorance is NOT bliss, especially if you’re a celebrity in 2015. With so many people who have access to the internet, within minutes of having said or done something offensive or “stupid” people will be out with their cellphone and computer ammunition – thirsty for blood. Sadly the most recent victims/transgressors of common sense and courtesy were actress, Raven Symone and Jason Derulo.
That’s So Raven actress, Raven Symone has become infamous for her statements in which she has countlessly offended people all over the world whether she was defending her overt racism(or discrimination, as she preferred) towards black people based on their names, denying the ‘African’ part of her identity as an African American – insisting rather, that she is simply an American, or simply unable to differentiate between continents and countries.
Jason Derulo, on the hand, more recently angered thousands of South Africans during his tour when he asked the crowd if they speak English. The particularly vexed were those on Twitter who made their disappointment and anger known through the hashtag #ThingsBetterThanJasonDerulo which had made its way to the trending list of hashtags for a second time in a few months.
True, there are many African countries in which large numbers of the population do not speak English. These are usually francophone countries (in which French is the official language) or countries with Arabic as the primary official language. Surely before visiting a new place, one does some level of research about the language(s) spoken there.
But what’s particularly upsetting about the Jason Derulo ordeal is not just the fact that he assumed South Africans cannot understand English – it is the pompous, self-righteous attitude which causes things like this to happen and defend them. Jason’s attempt to save his already-tarnished brand was saying that the question was not a literal one but figurative. See, English is my third language (his first and probably only) and I can tell you that there is no way to pose that as a “figurative question”. Was an apology that hard of a thing to do? Often we see and hear Americans who think the America is the center of the universe and everyone else is expected to know all things American but not vice-versa. This is not limited to Americans, a lot of people do this particularly nation-states where there’s a homogeneous cultural group.
This is understandable to some degree when thinking about the average American. Most people do not have the money to travel the world and learn all about each and every single country in the world and their customs, so these mistakes are sometimes pardoned. But the internet IS a thing. I know of local dishes, fashion trends, basic social and courtesy rules from Koreans, Malaysians, Yoruks in Turkey, Woodabes in Niger, Parisians in France…all from the internet. This information is not just from pop-culture music videos and dramas but documentaries, vlogs, news channels etc. Sure not all people have access to these means but why is it that so often the ones who get caught out for these ignorant actions are those who do have the access?
I have been guilty of this cultural ignorance at some point in my life, and I am sure it still lurks there somewhere but I sure know how to apologise after having offended someone about it. It will definitely be hard to unlearn the stereotypes of Africans living in poverty and unable to speak English, Asians eating everything that moves, or Germans being racists or Pakistan being a series of detonating bombs…whatever the case may be. The point is to expand one’s knowledge – read a book by someone from a different culture, try different food, learn another language, listen to foreign music (even if you don’t understand the lyrics, get a translator later), but never be complacent in ignorance. We are running out of excuses for our ignorance in an increasingly sceptical and globalised world in which people are more socially and politically alert than ever.